Wednesday, September 12, 2007

just like home; four women; it's a free world; night; the secrets; the savages; atonement; blind; breakfast with scot

Gorgeous morning here in New Hamburg. I took some time out to come home, do laundry, attend my own classes (as a student) and now I'm ready to head back in. The early dawn light out here in the mennonite country where I live, reminds me of Silent Light (reviewed below) and the mennonites of that film. I had a vigorous discussion about the movie's ending in a line-up the other day. Without giving it away, let's just say it embraced some magic realism, which viewers will either embrace or balk at. I loved it. As the movies have continued to resonate through the week, my top ten list, predictably is sliding around too. Check it out, top right.

Because I need to jump in my car and get back into the festival, I will just note here the highlights of the roughly 10 films I've seen since Elizabeth which is still riding high at the top of my list. Thanks to the Cate-forums people who are sending me lots of folks to my blog. I might point out to you Cate lovers, that I have several pieces on her in the nether regions of this blog: reviews of Babel and a long essay really about her performance at the Brooklyn Academy of Music last year of the title role as Hedda Gabler. Follow these links and enjoy - and thanks for checking in.

Since my last post, I have now seen parts or all of the following movies. I will survey them quickly here in the order in which I saw them: Just Like Home, Lone Scherfig's movie about a town unhinged by an early morning streaker, lives up to that Danish helmer's ironic sense of humour about the way in which people strip (so to speak) away the facades of their lives. Although not as accomplished as Italian for Beginners or Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself, it is worth seeing, if anything for that famous last shot you have now likely seen in several of the daily festival publications. Adoor Gopalakrishnan's Four Women was yet another Indian compilation of four tales, this time meditations on the lives of women who fall into society's labels and can't shake them. Of these the prostitute and virgin ones were most powerful. Simple stories that evoke the enormous challenges still facing most of the world's women.

A Ken Loach film is always going to be in my top ten list. I love this British master filmmaker's unfailing sense of human nature (I guess after 50 years of making movies about same, it shouldn't be surprising). No one does an Act Two climb like he does, and this movie about a woman who starts her own recruiting agency for illegal immigrants lives up to all we've come to expect from Loach. As her decisions spiral her further and further down the path of disaster, we genuinely don't know how on earth she can rescue herself. And the great thing about a Loach film, is that his characters don't always succeed. Like My Name is Joe, this one leaves us clutching our seat on behalf of our heroine, and meanwhile character details, like her fondness for dressing like French movie stars of the 60s, tell us so much. Vintage Loach.

A movie I completely misjudged (unfortunately) from the write-up was Lawrence Johnston's Night, which I thought might be a reflective, meditative celebration of the one thing we all share. In fact, it is hugely superficial, with nothing to offer in the way of actual experience of night that isn't clouded by obvious voiceover. A big disappointment. On the other hand,
Avi Nesher's The Secrets about life in a Jewish seminary for girls, was surprising in its power and nuances. Although it is a standard story of two young women who couldn't be more opposite coming together in deepest friendship, it offers a view of young, intense loving romance, when same is caught up in spiritual struggle. Fanny Ardant makes a wonderful appearance as a wounded woman they are sent to work with.

The Savages, Tamara Jenkins' comedy about siblings forced to take care of their father when he is diagnosed with dementia (pictured above) was also one of those movies I didn't expect to like as much as I did. Laura Linney and Philip Seymour-Hoffman are brillant (particularly Hoffman - wow!) as two average people facing almost constant pain in life situations and dealing with them the best they know how. Some of the best moments of this movie are in the quietest ones, despite the strong dialogue, pointing out how necessary it is to contrast dialogue with silence. (Right, students? Yeah, yeah, yeah, Sherry.)

Atonement is likely to become one of the safest Oscar contenders of this year. Its gorgeous sets and costumes continue the tradition in this year of outstanding production design (truly, one of the most notable elements of this year's crop of movies). With strong performances, and wonderful camera direction in many places, it is an accomplished piece about the power of a lie, reminiscent of The Children's Hour. My only complaint was that it felt occasionally a bit manipulative in its non-linear structure. More on that in some other post, but well worth seeing. One of the strongest movies of the year and a great last minute supporting performance by Vanessa Redgrave.

Blind is the most unusual movie I've seen this year. This film from Iceland by Tamar van den Hop has a very very simple premise: a girl is sent to work with an impossible blind boy. He falls for her and doesn't know that she is not what the time would call attractive or beautiful. An operation that will restore his sight causes her to flee from him rather than face his disappointment. He spends the rest of the movie looking for her. The ending is sublime and again the icy blues, whites, and greys give such an incredible feeling of climate and season that I was huddled in my jacket for the whole movie. A beautiful film. Check it out.

Whoa! Just saw the time! The next film I saw was Breakfast with Scot, by Laurie Lynd, someone else I have known my whole life and whom I am proud to see in this year's festival. His story of a gay couple unhinged in their lives and self-limiting choices by the arrival of a very uninhibited gay 11 year old, takes some unexpected turns and offers us wonderful cameo appearances by the likes of Sheila McCarthy and Megan Followes. Hockey Night in Canada gets a new spin and stereotypes are checked at the boards of this fun drama. Check it out. Must run!

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